For other uses, see Marksman (disambiguation).
"Sharpshooter" redirects here. For other uses, see Sharpshooter (disambiguation).
An American marksman looks for enemy activity along the hilltops near Dur Baba District, Afghanistan (2006)
A soldier with a G28 of the German Army

A marksman is a person who is skilled in precision shooting,[1] using projectile weapons, usually with a rifle but most commonly with a designated marksman rifle or a special application rifle, to shoot at long range targets. In popular and historical usage, "sharpshooter" and "marksman" are considered synonyms.[2][3] Within the shooting sports and military usages today, however, sharpshooter and marksman refer to distinctly different levels of skill, which are never conflated. Specifically, in the US Army, "marksman" is a rating below "sharpshooter" and "expert".[1] Four levels of skill are generally recognized today in both military and civilian shooting circles: unqualified, marksman, sharpshooter, and expert. Marksmanship badges for the three qualified levels are commonly awarded to both civilian and military shooters who attain proficiency in shooting higher than "unqualified".

The main difference between military marksmen and snipers is that marksmen are usually considered an organic part of a fireteam of soldiers and are never expected to operate independently, whereas snipers usually work alone or in very small teams. Snipers are also often tasked with responsibilities other than delivering long-range fire—specifically, conducting reconnaissance and directing artillery or air strikes. Within the military, marksmen are sometimes attached to an infantry fireteam or squad where they take accurate long-range shots at valuable targets as needed, thus extending the reach of the fireteam or squad.


Middle Ages (500 AD-1500)

In the Middle Ages, in the first use of the term 'marksman' was given to the royal archers, or bowmen, of a palace guard, which was an elite group of troops chosen to guard a royal palace. This was around the 10th century, although records of some 9th century English Kings show the listings of groups of marksmen specifically chosen for their militaries.

Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815)

Another use of units of marksmen was during the Napoleonic Wars in the British Army. While most troops at that time used inaccurate smoothbore muskets, the British "Green Jackets" (named for their distinctive green uniforms) used the famous Baker rifle. Through the combination of a leather wad and tight grooves on the inside of the barrel (rifling), this weapon was far more accurate, though slower to load. These Riflemen were the elite of the British Army, and served at the forefront of any engagement, most often in skirmish formation, scouting out and delaying the enemy. Another term; "sharp shooter", was in use in British newspapers as early as 1801. In the Edinburgh Advertiser, 23 June 1801, can be found the following quote in a piece about the North British Militia; "This Regiment has several Field Pieces, and two companies of Sharp Shooters, which are very necessary in the modern "Stile of War". The term appears even earlier, around 1781, in Continental Europe, translated from the German Scharfschütze.

U.S. Civil War (1861-1865)

During the American Civil War, sharpshooters saw limited action, as tacticians sought to avoid the heavy casualties inflicted through normal tactics, which involved close ranks of men at close ranges. The sharpshooters used by both sides in the Civil War were less used as snipers, and more as skirmishers and scouts. These elite troops were well equipped and trained, and placed at the front of any column to first engage the enemy.

Union Army

An unidentified sharpshooter for the Army of the Potomac on picket duty during the American Civil War.

Notable sharpshooter units of the Civil War included the 1st and 2nd United States Volunteer Sharpshooter Regiment (USVSR), composed of companies provided by numerous (primarily eastern) Union states. The U.S.V.S.R. were organized by Colonel Hiram Berdan, a self-made millionaire who was reputed to be the best rifle marksman in the nation at that time.[4]

There was also an all-Native American company of sharpshooters in the Army of the Potomac. These men, primarily Odawa, Ojibwe and Potawotami from northern Michigan, comprised the members of Company K of the 1st Regiment Michigan Volunteer Sharpshooters.

In the Western Theater were the well known 66th Illinois Veteran Volunteer Infantry Regiment (Western Sharpshooters), originally known as "Birge's Western Sharpshooters" and later the "Western Sharpshooters-14th Missouri Volunteers". The regiment was raised by MG John C. Fremont at St. Louis' Benton Barracks as the Western Theater counterpart to Berdan's sharpshooters. Members were recruited from most of the Western states, predominantly Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Missouri. Competitive induction required candidates to place ten shots in a three-inch circle at 200 yards. They were initially armed with half-stock Plains Rifles built and procured by St. Louis custom gunmaker Horace (H.E.) Dimick.

These "Dimick Rifles" (as they were known in the unit) were modified for military use by the installation of the Lawrence Patent Sight, and fired a special "swiss-chasseur" minie ball selected by Horice Dimick for its ballistic accuracy. They were the only Federal unit completely armed with "sporting rifles". Beginning in the autumn of 1863 soldiers of the regiment began to reequip themselves with the new 16 shot, lever action Henry Repeating Rifle giving them a significant advantage in firepower over their opponents. Over 250 of the Western Sharpshooters purchased Henrys out of their own pocket, at an average price of forty dollars (over three months pay for a Private). Illinois Governor Richard Yates provided Henrys for some members of the 64th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment or Yates Sharpshooters and other soldiers of the unit appear to have similarly equipped themselves with Henry Rifles in 1864.

Confederate Army

On the Confederate side, sharpshooter units functioned as light infantry. Their duties included skirmishing and reconnaissance. Robert E. Rodes, a colonel and later major general of the 5th Alabama Infantry Regiment, was a leader in the development of sharpshooter units.[5] The Confederate Army made more widespread use of sharpshooters than Federal forces, often having semi-permanent detachments at the regimental level and battalions of various size attached to larger formations. Dedicated sharpshooter units included: (Pindall's) 9th Battalion Missouri Sharpshooters; the 1st & 2nd Battalions Georgia Sharpshooters; and the sharpshooter battalions of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Confederate sharpshooters were often less well equipped than Federal counterparts, often using the Enfield Rifled Musket or (the more uncommon) hexagonal bore British Whitworth rifles, rather than breech loading Berdan Sharps rifles. In his memoirs, Louis Leon detailed his service as a sharpshooter in the Fifty-Third North Carolina Regiment during the Civil War. As a sharpshooter, he volunteered as a skirmisher, served on picket duty, and engaged in considerable shooting practice. Of his company's original twelve sharpshooters, only he and one other were still alive after Gettysburg. As related by the regiment's commanding officer, Col. James Morehead, in a rare one-on-one encounter Pvt. Leon killed a Union sharpshooter, whom the Confederates identified as a Native American from Canada.[6]


The terms 'marksman' and 'sharpshooter' are often used interchangeably with the term 'sniper' (as often in history) within paramilitary counter-terrorism teams such as SWAT, since only a select few use long-range sniper rifles (SRs) or designated marksman rifle (DMRs) while the majority are armed with close quarter combat submachine guns (SMGs) and personal defense weapon systems (PDWs).

Marksmen competing in Australia

Marksmen in different countries


In the Australian Army, marksmanship is currently recognized by the award of one of three skill-at-arms badges. The 'Skill at Arms Badge' consists of a representation of crossed .303 Short Magazine Lee–Enfield (SMLE) rifles and is awarded for achieving a prescribed standard of shooting skill. This must be repeated within twelve months for the badge to be awarded in perpetuity to the recipient. The 'Sniper's Badge' is similar in design but incorporates the letter 'S' into the design and is awarded to soldiers who qualify on the Army Sniper's Course. The 'Army Top 20 Badge' consists of crossed .303 SMLE rifles upon a laurel wreath and is awarded to the final 20 competitors in the annual Champion Shot for the Army. The winner of this competition is also awarded the Champion Shots Medal. Only one badge may be worn.[7][8]

United Kingdom

In the British Armed Forces, "marksman" is traditionally the highest shooting rating and holders may wear a crossed rifles badge on the lower sleeve.

A British soldier aims on a shooting range in Iraq, 29 July 2006.
From Army Operational Shooting Policy for the Annual Personal Weapons Test (APWT) Combat Infantryman (CI):Marksman (Combat Infantryman). To qualify for Marksman all practices are to be completed and the firer must achieve a score of 55 (85%) or more of the total Highest Possible Score (65) for the entire shoot. Soldiers achieving a non-marksman passing score are NOT permitted to re-shoot practices in order to qualify for Marksman. Infantry soldiers who qualify as Marksmen during the Combat Infantryman's Course (CIC) are entitled to retain the award on joining their units. Soldiers who qualify as Marksmen are entitled to wear the Marksman badge for one year before they must requalify. (Page 3 - 70, Amdt 1/Feb/07)

United States

In the United States Army and Marine Corps, the marksmanship of the soldiers is ranked based on their skill: marksman-sharpshooter-expert. Holders of each level wear qualification badges below their ribbons with bars for the weapons they qualify in. In the United States Navy and the United States Coast Guard, full-sized medals are only issued at the expert level. Both services award separate medals for pistol and rifle proficiency. The United States Air Force gives just a ribbon for qualifying at the expert level, although a bronze star can be earned if the wearer qualifies on both of these types of small arms.[9]

U.S. Army soldiers fire a FGM-148 Javelin, 16 August 2006.

Within the United States military, a marksman in the U.S. Army is referred to as "Squad Designated Marksman" (SDM), and a marksman in the Marines is called a "Designated Marksman" (DM). The United States Army particularly emphasizes the fireteam concept: according to US Army Field Manual 3-21.8[10] (Infantry Rifle Platoon and Squad, formerly FM 7-8) a typical United States Army fireteam consists of four soldiers. In the context of a Stryker Brigade Combat Team (SBCT)'s Infantry Rifle Companies,[11][12] one man from each fireteam in a rifle squad is either the Squad Anti-armor Specialist (RMAT), armed with the FGM-148 Javelin, or the Squad Designated Marksman (DM), who carries the M4 carbine and M14 rifle. In both cases this specialized function replaces the basic rifleman position in the fireteam.


As with other Commonwealth armies, the Marksman in the Canadian Army is a shooting achievement recognized by a badge bearing the monarch's crown and crossed .303 Lee–Enfield No. 4, Mk I rifles. On operations within the Canadian Infantry Battalion, rifle company designated marksman can be assigned. This is not to be confused with Canadian snipers, who attain a high level of marksmanship and fieldcraft through in a very grueling selection course and must achieve a recce qualification and marksman before being considered for the basic sniper course.


The Indian Army uses a locally manufactured licensed variant of the SVD Dragunov in the Designated Marksman role as part of each infantry platoon. The Dragunov is used in conjunction with the INSAS family of weapons to give flexibility and striking power at short to mid range firefights, to Indian Army infantry units engaged with opposing forces.

The Army Marksmanship Unit trains members for sports shooting as well as military shooting. [13]

Civilian marksman

United States

The United States has a long tradition of marksmanship going back to its beginnings including the role of common men in its Revolutionary War. There are several organizations which promote civilian marksmanship including the Civilian Marksmanship Program which began just after the turn of the 20th century as a government chartered program and the Division of Civilian Marksmanship. One of the newest and currently the fastest growing marksmanship programs in North America is Project Appleseed which was started by the Revolutionary War Veterans Association in 2006. Shooters who score 210 or better on the "Quick and Dirty" Appleseed AQT earn the Rifleman designation and are issued a Rifleman patch.[14] Similar to the U.S. military marksmanship ratings of Unqualified, Marksman, Sharpshooter, and Expert (see Marksmanship Badge (United States), the Appleseed ratings have the same levels, with the exception that instead of "Expert", the equivalent performance level is called "Rifleman".[14]

The National Rifle Association of America (NRA) is an American nonprofit organization founded in 1871 that sponsors marksmanship events featuring shooting skill and sports.

See also


  1. 1 2 "Marksman". Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. Retrieved June 8, 2008.
  2. "MERRIAM-WEBSTER DICTIONARY: "Marksman"". Retrieved November 22, 2016.
  3. "Roget's 21st Century Thesaurus: "Marksman"". Retrieved November 22, 2016.
  4. "History of Hiram Berdan". Retrieved 2013-05-31.
  5. Ray, Fred L. Shock Troops of the Confederacy: the sharpshooter battalions of the Army of Northern Virginia 2006 ISBN 978-0-9649585-5-5
  6. The Diary of a Tar Heel Confederate Soldier, 1913, Stone Publishing Company, Charlotte, NC, page 72
  7. "Special & Qualification Badges of the ADF 2002 Page 2". Digger History. Retrieved 2011-01-23.
  8. "Chapter 26 Military Skills Badges". Army Standing Orders for Dress. Australian Army. 1996.
  9. HQ AFPC/DPPPRA (2001). "The Air Force Awards and Decorations Program" (PDF). p. 31
  10. Infantry Rifle Platoon and Squad, FM 7-8
  11. John Pike. "FM3-21.11 Chapter 1". Retrieved 2013-08-17.
  12. A. Goodman. "Sharpshooters: The Truth about A.C. Snipers". A. Goodman. Retrieved 2015-06-19.
  13. "The Army Marksmanship Unit".
  14. 1 2 Ayoob, Massad (May–June 2010). "The Appleseed Project" (123). Backwoods Home Magazine.
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